After 4 and a bit weeks, 64 mostly entertaining matches and an utterly farcical trophy presentation ceremony, it’s all over. Germany have won their first World Cup since reunification in 1990. The fact Mario Götze, a player born after Germany reunified, scored the winner made it all the more poetic on the night. This has been one of the more enjoyable World Cups of the recent past, and certainly better than 2010’s drudgefest. The group stage in particular provided so many goals, and so many talking points, that Russia 2018 will have to go some to live up to Brazil 2014. Here are a few of my thoughts on some of the best teams, games and players we saw in Brazil.
The Best Teams
Football is a team game. 11 chaps who all have a job to do in the hope of gaining a result for their collective unit. This seems to have been forgotten somewhat in recent times with the rise of the FIFA-box-covering superstar footballer. In this tournament, however, a number of sides showed that a collective, 11 man-unit working together can very much overcome a side with a superstar or two in it. For me the greatest exponents of this were Costa Rica. In Keylor Navas they had one of the outstanding goalkeepers of the tournament, with him marshalling a defence which had an absolute gem of an offside trap. They were unlucky to go out to the Dutch and Louis Van Gaal’s goalkeeper-based penalty mind games in the quarter finals, with a starting 11 made up mostly of MLS and Scandinavia-based players. I also really enjoyed watching Chile too although the memory of them has faded a little. Although Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez were outstanding individuals in their four games, it was so clear that Jorge Sampaoli had his players playing exactly the way he wanted to, and they were happy to do so with everyone easily fitting into the way he had Chile playing. Sanchez tracked back selflessly, Gary Medel was a 5 foot 7 inch rock at centre-half and again that whole back line, despite being a little makeshift, knew exactly what it had to do and how to support the attack.
Obviously, the best team in this World Cup was Germany, and they proved that last night. Despite losing Sami Khedira in the warm-up and Christoph Kramer to a head knock after half an hour, the Germans still had the gumption and the collective nous to see themselves through and deservedly take the World Cup back to Deutschland. Again obviously the Germans’ outstanding performance was in that mad semi final win over Brazil, though they showed their resilience in last night’s match and against the French in the quarter-finals in particular. Best Matches Staying fairly Germany-centric, to my mind the game of the group stages was Germany v Ghana. After Germany took the lead early in the second half, the Ghanaians came back with swagger and verve, with Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari in particular seeming to remember what this football malarkey was all about with two wonderful performances. There was no little poetry in the Germans’ equaliser either, being scored by Miroslav Klose to equal Ronaldo’s World Cup goals record. It was one of those games which you were sad had ended. Another of those came in the knockout stages, in the shape of Belgium v USA. The opening 90 minutes provided, as this World Cup has done on a number of occasions, a very entertaining 0-0 draw with Tim Howard making an extraordinary number of saves to keep the admittedly poor-finishing Belgians out. Extra time of course only got better,with the Americans roaring back from two down at half time to get back in the game via a Julian Green goal. It was not to be, however, with even that wonderful training groud free kick routine unable to provide the US with an equaliser. And then of course, there was Brazil v Germany. But I’ve already said plenty about that. In short the match was just absolutely unreal, and in my view the game of the tournament, simply because it’s a result that’s never likely to be seen again between two nations of that calibre. Best Players Firstly, I want to get out of the way the fact that I think Lionel Messi as player of the tournament is an appalling decision. He may have scored four goals in the group stages but he did not a lot in the knock-out phase and was clearly knackered as the tournament wore on, though he is patently an outstanding player. My player of the tournament was James Rodriguez who scored six goals, at least one in every game he played, played beautifully throughout, was the attacking fulcrum of his side and scored the goal of the tournament against Uruguay. Other mentions have to go to Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer and Arjen Robben. Messi wasn’t even the best player in his team – Javier Mascherano had an outstanding tournament, capped by his wonderful performance against the Dutch in the semi-finals. My team of the tournament (playing the now-traditional 4-2-3-1), then, would look something like this: Neuer; Lahm, Garay, Vlaar, Blind; Schweinsteiger, Mascherano; Rodriguez, Kroos, Robben; Müller Personally I wouldn’t give Messi a starting berth in my fictional eleven. Though clearly he has been very good at this World Cup, he tailed off as the tournament progressed, while I feel the 11 I’ve picked started well and kept up that form. Paul Pogba as young player isn’t much cleverer than the Messi either – for me Memphis Depay would have been a far more deserving choice. Some final thoughts to come in a separate post. Two for one!